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Greek Grammar and Trinitarian Worship

Posted October 24, 2022
Attributes of GodDoctrine

Some years ago, I was in a meeting of pastors that was going on for longer than it needed to. One of them recommended we take a short break to regroup: “Why don’t we sing the first verse of ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God’?” It was the seventh-inning stretch we all needed!

Do you remember how the first verse ends? Neither did we. In unison, fifty or so of us began exuberantly singing,

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

The voices died down and we looked at one another thinking the same thing: that was a terrible spot to finish singing! The best hymns or stories when cut in half can become tragedies.

Singing in Heaven

In Revelation 4–5, there’s singing in heaven. The first part of the song in chapter four focuses on God as creator. There, God the Father is ascribed glory, honor, and power for making the world and everything in it. But creation is just the first part of the song, and if it ended there the story of humanity would be a tragedy. Creation fell, and unless God the Creator also becomes God the Redeemer, we’re left with nothing but lamentation. That’s where John is at the beginning of chapter 5: “I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it” (Rev. 5:4).

John’s spirits are lifted when his eyes are directed to the Lion-Lamb who had conquered, giving hope to fallen humanity. The Lamb takes the scroll from the hand of the Father, and one hundred million angels erupt in praise (Rev. 5:11). A new song is sung ascribing praise to the Lamb, and this heavenly worship tells us something about the Trinity:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth
and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!

—Rev. 5:12

Trinitarian Power

There’s a small word here that remains untranslated in most of our English Bibles. It’s the definite article “the” and in the Greek text, it’s attached to the word power. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive the power and wealth and wisdom etc.” The use of the definite article here is meant to refer us to something in the preceding context.[1] Revelation 5:12 is referring back to 4:11, where the last thing ascribed to the Father was power. The point is that the same power which was ascribed to the Father is now ascribed to the Son. This is because the Persons of the Holy Trinity are equal in power and glory. The Son doesn’t deserve a lesser kind of worship or adoration than the Father, since they are one God.

What about the Holy Spirit? Well, when John sees the Lamb, he notes that it had “seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev. 5:6). This is a reference to the Holy Spirit as evidenced by John’s trinitarian salutation at the opening of the book:

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of kings on earth.

—Rev. 1:4-5

God himself is the source of saving grace, so to say that the seven spirits give grace is to confirm that this is a symbolic representation of the Holy Spirit. Seven is the number of fullness, or completion, signifying the perfection of the Spirit.

John’s recognition that these spirits are sent out from the Lamb into all the earth also seems to coincide with Jesus’s promise to send the Holy Spirit after his ascension throughout the Gospel of John (John 15:26; 16:7–8). This means that wrapped up in the ascription of power to the Lamb is the worship of the Spirit, too (the Lamb has and sends the Holy Spirit). Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

Trinitarian Worship

From the earliest days of the Christian church, heretics sought to call into question the equality of substance belonging to the Father, Son, and Spirit. Some taught that Jesus was a created being; others argued that the Holy Spirit was an angel or impersonal force. The response of those faithful to the Scriptures was to point out that each Person of the Holy Trinity was worshipped with equal glory within the church. This worship wasn’t something the church invented, but it’s what they took from the heavenly model given in places like Revelation 5.

The church militant follows the lead of the church triumphant in worship, and the church triumphant teaches us that the Persons of the Trinity deserve one kind of glory because they are one God. The definite article in Revelation 5:12 is just further confirmation of the consistent teaching of the Scriptures. It helps to bring the songs of Revelation 4–5 to their proper end—not just creation, but new creation through the redemptive work of the Lamb who will receive glory for all eternity together with the Father and the Spirit.

[1] This is called the anaphoric use of the article.

Photo of Adriel Sanchez
Adriel Sanchez

Adriel Sanchez is pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church, a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, he also serves the broader church as a host on the Core Christianity radio program, a live, daily call-in talk show where he answers listeners' questions about the Bible and the Christian faith. He and his wife Ysabel live in San Diego with their five children.